The evening started innocuously enough. I had a dinner date with friends, all of whom had walked this pregnancy journey with me, from those first stirrings of nausea that prompted them to insist I take a DIY pregnancy test That. Very. Minute., to every change in my baby bump over the last nine months, to where we were today – two days to my estimated date of delivery (EDD).
As I got into my friend Olivia’s car, she told me: “Don’t worry, I have newspaper and towels in the boot in case you have to give birth in the car.”
She was not joking. Hers was the designated “birthing” car, should it come down to that. My friends had been making emergency plans for weeks, just in case I went into labour when I was with them. They were having a lot of fun.
When we arrived at the restaurant at Marina Bay Sands, our friend Seok, whose birthday we were celebrating, informed us that she had already worked out an emergency exit plan with the staff, who had all been made aware that a near-EDD woman would be having dinner tonight.
She showed me a food trolley (yes, really) that I could sit on, in lieu of a wheelchair, should I not be able to walk to the car. I refused. These plans were getting more ridiculous by the minute. Now, it was a food trolley.
She wasn’t fazed when I rolled my eyes at her. Turning to the two drivers in the group, she led the way to a lift inside the restaurant that led to the carpark. They refused too. How would they find their cars coming out of a different lift?
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IS IT LABOUR? MAYBE IT’S NOT
Dinner was happily uneventful – until dessert rolled around. I was starting to feel uncomfortable, which I brushed off as sitting for too long. I could feel my belly tightening, which I brushed off as Braxton Hicks contractions, since the baby was close to arriving, and I had been feeling them for weeks. I also felt pressure on my rear end, as if I had to do a number two, which I dismissed.
Was the baby coming? I’ve had previous pregnancies but, embarrassingly, I wasn’t terribly sure about the signs of labour.
Just in case, I started timing the contractions.
“You’re very quiet. Are you okay?” Olivia, sharp as ever, asked. Fine, fine, I said.
I continued counting the minutes in between what I still believed were Braxton Hicks contractions. Did they seem just a little closer now?
Not wanting to alarm my friends – and cut short the birthday girl’s celebration – I hadn’t said anything. There was still time, I convinced myself. We would get to the end of dinner and I would figure something out.
“Are you okay?” Audra, the other driver in the group, had noticed me frowning at my phone.
Might as well come clean. “I’m counting,” I said.
“Counting what?” she shrieked. “Is the baby coming? How far apart? Do we need to go to the hospital? Need to leave now? Need to leave now or not?! Quickly, say!”
“I think it’s about seven minutes.”
“Seven minutes? We have to go. Now!”
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TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL – OR NOT
And yet, I was still reluctant to leave for the hospital. I called my husband. “I think the baby is coming,” I told him.
He offered to pick me up from the Marina Bay Sands taxi stand. I estimated that it would be a 25-minute journey from our home, and then another 25 minutes as we rounded back to Mount Alvernia Hospital, where I was booked to deliver.
Given my history of rapid births, I didn’t want to take the risk of a 50-minute wait. I decided it would be prudent to simply head to the hospital. If I was truly in labour, I could get an epidural early.
Was it my imagination or were the twinges getting tighter and more intense? It had been only a few minutes. I contemplated texting my gynaecologist but figured it could wait until I arrived at the hospital, where the staff would call him.
Weeks ago, my gynaecologist had advised that I should simply head to the hospital once I felt contractions. “If you’re on your own, just go. Don’t wait. We will meet you there,” he said.
He even gave my husband and me instructions on what to do should I have to give birth at home.
I decided it would be faster for my friends to take me to the hospital and for my husband to meet me there.
THE RUSH TO THE HOSPITAL
With a loud scraping of chairs, and sorting out of handbags and assorted parcels, we made ready to go – only for two of them to turn back when they realised we had not paid the bill.
I would go in Olivia’s car with another friend Josephine, who was the appointed navigator. Audra would drive her car with Seok in it.
At her car, Olivia lined the back seat with newspapers and a towel. I thought she was being dramatic – the baby was not going to come in the car – but now was not the time to be snarky since she was my ride to the hospital. The contractions were closer and more intense now. Just breathe through it, I told myself, we’re on our way. I, too, did not want to give birth in the car.
The urge to do a number two was much stronger too. This was it, I realised. The baby was really coming – but how quickly would the labour progress?
We arrived at the hospital in 20 minutes. Traffic that night was light and the traffic lights were forgiving, although at red lights, I found myself willing: “Green, turn green, turn green now.”
Josephine had plotted a route that took us past KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Thomson Medical Centre, in succession, in case I needed to give birth before we could reach Mount Alvernia Hospital. She kept the conversation going, distracting me and keeping me calm. Olivia was so stressed she later broke out in hives.
My husband was waiting at the hospital entrance when we arrived.
“We’re staying. We’ll wait,” my friends said as I was wheeled up to the delivery suite. After making sure I was settled, my husband headed back down to the lobby to register me.
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WHEN IS THE ANAESTHETIST GOING TO ARRIVE?
I was impatient for the nurse to examine my cervix. No woman enjoys it but I needed to find out how dilated I was. Seven cm, she told me. How long until the baby comes? About two hours, she estimated.
I asked for laughing gas to tide me over until the anaesthetist arrived. A nurse strapped a mask over my head and told me to take slow, deep breaths.
I’d used this before with a previous birth. I didn’t laugh at anything, like Google said I might, but I had enjoyed the floaty feeling the gas tends to induce.
The floaty feeling never came. In fact, I didn’t feel one minutiae of pain relief. Neither did I feel I was far away, observing things from a distance – all sensations I remembered from the last time. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right this time but I tried anyway.
It had been barely 15 minutes since I’d arrived at the delivery suite but the contractions were speeding up and intensifying. Barely one contraction would stop before the next one came. There was almost no break in between. And the jump in pain was discernible with every fresh contraction.
Time was reduced to the interval from the end of one contraction to the next. I asked again if the anaesthetist was on the way. At this rate, I wouldn’t be able to keep still for the epidural.
I’m not a screamer by nature. But the fact that I was letting out even soft moans meant that I was in some amount of pain. If this was the pain at 7cm dilation, what would be like at 8cm? All my focus was on how to deal with the next, even more painful, contraction.
In the meantime, my friends were huddled outside the delivery suite, continuing the party. They were ready to hunker down for the night. Seok had even phoned her daughter: “Go to bed first. I’m going to be late. I have a baby to deliver.”
WHOSE BABY IS THIS AND WHY IS IT HERE?
Everything around me fell away as the contractions came without pause. I felt like I needed to pee and poo at the same time – that was my body’s urge to push, although I couldn’t put my finger on it then. I remember thinking, hazily: “I cannot poop here. That would be so terrible for the nurses to clean up.”
But all those considerate thoughts flew out the window by the time the next contraction – the biggest, longest and most painful one – came around.
I don’t remember if I screamed or cursed or merely moaned. The tightening was excruciating and there was a searing at my vagina that I couldn’t quite process. I did notice, later, the many deep and angry nail marks I had made in my palms.
I remember breathing in until there was no space in my lungs for air, hoping that some molecule of laughing gas would take hold and give me just that one iota of relief. I remember thinking that I would not be able to manage the next contraction – this one was already indescribably painful.
I felt a great ballooning sensation and remember thinking, “To hell with the mess, I REALLY NEED TO POOP.” I blacked out for a few seconds as the contraction peaked.
The relief from that contraction was immense but then, I heard the nurse asking her colleague to call my gynae and cancel my anaesthetist. Why were they cancelling my pain relief? I needed this epidural.
I was still coming down from the pain when I heard a baby cry. Why is there a baby in the room? And, whose is it?
I opened my eyes just as a nurse place a wrapped bundle in my arms.
Then, the pin dropped.
“I gave birth?” I asked her. She looked at me like I was completely out of it.
And I was. My brain was on a delayed live telecast, and at least half a minute behind reality.
It dawned on me – very slowly – that I had somehow pushed the baby out. I wasn’t even lying in a position to push although I had bent one leg to relieve the pressure on my back. One push – and the little one had whooshed out.
I was just relieved that someone had caught her in time.
My husband stepped in a minute later. “You missed it,” I said, a little surprised to see him (again, brain playing catch-up).
It had been just 30 minutes from the time I arrived at the hospital to the time I gave birth. And I had done so without any pain relief, without my doctor, and without my husband by my side.
What I did have were a tribe of women around me – my oldest and closest friends outside, the nurses on duty that night, and my cohort of convent school mates who were being given live updates on Facebook through Audra.
It reminded me of days of old, when the women of the village would gather for a birth. There’s something special about sharing such moments with other women. For me, it was even more special that these same women were there with me from that first positive DIY pregnancy test, right up to the dramatic birth.
As Josephine said to me after that: “Thank you for giving me the most exciting night of my life.” That it was, indeed. For all of us.
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